The business of photography – part 1

I have been asked a lot of these questions over and over and teach many of these in my Business of Photography Class.  For the next few months I thought that I would put out a few posts to help with the business side of things.

The first post I want to touch on some things that you should know / have BEFORE you open for business.  Some items may seem harsh but to be honest if you are taking pictures for money you should not be doing it out of a whim.  One thing to note, when I talk about the business of photography there are two distinct areas – one is shooting events like weddings, grads, family, commercial, advertising, etc.  The second is shooting nature or wildlife and selling the prints, both have their own issues to be aware of and benefits.

First thing, if you think taking great pictures is easy (that is what full auto is for, right?) and photography is a way to make a lot of quick money stop reading now as you are already in trouble!  If you are serious and want to put in the time and money to become a great photographer read on!

Business license

If you are starting a business you need a business license, as a Lethbridge photographer or any place in Alberta, Canada or most places in the world. Don’t start advertising or marketing before you get a license.  At the same time make sure that the name that you have chosen for your business is legal and is not being used. You do not want to start up a business only to get in legal trouble.  If you are doing nature and wildlife pictures you may be classified as an artist but make sure you check this out so you don’t get a nasty surprise.

Equipment

If you are taking pictures for money you are responsible for making sure that you have the equipment to do the job, this includes camera cards.  This does not mean just having a camera and a lens but having back up gear as well.  If you are in the middle of a shoot and your camera dies you are responsible to finish shooting and if you are shooting something like a wedding this means you do not have the time to leave and borrow equipment. You can rent equipment if you do not own it (if that is available in your area) but you need to have back ups.  My suggestion is to have a extra camera, lens and flash at the minimum.  As for camera cards you need to have enough storage on your cards (or have a way to download during the shoot) that you will not run out, things change during the day and a shoot that was only suppose to be a few images may become one for hundreds of images.  ALSO – you need to have enough battery power for your camera and accessories.  I have seen a number of photographers get into trouble when they ran out of batteries for their flash and could not continue.

If you are shooting nature and wild life then selling the prints your equipment needs are a little more flexible.  If you only have one camera and it dies when shooting you just head home with no images.  On the other hand nature and wildlife photographers may find that they need a lot more lenses to get the images that sell.

Knowledge

This is a BIG issue with many photographers.  Let me start by saying that you do not need to know all the intricacies of photography like what year was film developed or the technology behind a CMOS sensor, but if you are taking a photography assignment you do need to know enough to get your client excellent pictures in all situations that may come up.  This means that you need to be able to take pictures in with all types of lighting (knowing your ISO and what shutter speed and aperture you will need) , during all situations (what to do if a set of parents at a wedding are divorced or how to take a picture with a screaming 2 year old) and with a skill that will deliver a excellent product (your client wants to see a professional photographer that can take control to get the image, not a photographer that is as frustrated mess).  If you are not comfortable with shooting in a variety of situations then do not start offering your services!  Shooting on a auto mode is a quick way to get in deep trouble!!  Auto will not work in all situations and in many situations will deliver a substandard product.  One situation that I tell many students is the photographer that came to me several years ago for some printing.  As I was loading her images I asked her how long she had been a professional photographer (that is how she introduced herself).  I was told for three days, she had bought the camera 5 days before and shot her sisters wedding three days ago.  So many people commented on how much they loved the pictures, pictures that they had only seen on the cameras viewfinder, that she decided to become a professional.  All the pictures were shot on full auto in the “wedding mode”, actually it is portrait mode but this person thought it was called the wedding mode.  I printed her pictures that were very good as the lighting was easy for the camera to work with and away she went.  Two weeks later she was back and crying her eyes out.  She had just done her first wedding for money and according to her the camera broke.  What had happened was she had used the same mode as the first wedding, but the lighting was very difficult (back lite with large windows behind the wedding party) and everything was underexposed beyond fixing.  She did not know how to compensate for this and just kept shooting in the full auto mode.  I strongly recommend that if you want to do pictures for a business that you should shoot at least a dozen different events using different modes on your camera such as program, TV, SV, AV and M (so a dozen weddings, a dozen grads, a dozen family sessions) before you even think of charging or being the sole photographer (actually I would recommend a lot more, but I know most people will not listen to that).

Also for nature and wildlife photographers as well as other photographers do not believe it when friends and family say they like your pictures,  this is a sure way to get sucked in.  Many people will say they like or love pictures but it is not until people put their money out that you should believe them.  I had a person come in for my opinion on a picture, this picture was out of focus, under exposed and poorly composed – they were thinking of entering it into a contest and wanted to know what I thought.  EVERYONE in the family said that they loved it!!  I had to tell them that is was horrible, they went to another photographer and were told the same thing as I told them.  They entered it anyway as the family kept pushing them.  After a $50.00 entry fee they were told that it would not even be judge as it was not near high enough quality, and like the photographer said to me he thought it was bad but the family kept saying how good it was.  (Funny thing about this story is that the photographer had many great images and one of the images that the family did not like was a finalist in the contest).  It is easy for someone to say they love a picture and not mean it, take it for what it is worth, thank them and move on.  If you truly want to know if you are taking good pictures find a professional photographer and ask them, be prepared for praise or criticism and learn from that.

Well I hope this first part did not discourage anyone too much.  Always use what you learn to get better, be that to drive you to get more knowledge or to get more equipment.

Part 2 – Marketing your business

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